By: Jackie Victor * email@example.com * Audio version click here
Detroit is a spiritual city. For no place else that I have visited or lived, cultivates the strength to see the divine within, in quite the same way as Detroit.
This claim might seem counter-intuitive, because we do not live in great beauty or have access to expansive natural resources, And it is true: on a day to day basis it's hard to see divinity amidst despair, vacant houses, empty lots and lost dreams.
This is not New York City, where one can draw inspiration from thousands of artists and successful entrepreneurs and be dazzled by the fineries that wealth attracts; nor San Francisco, where like-minded people converge, each pushing eachother further to create newer, more exciting art, food, products, and ways of living. This is not Portland nor Seattle, surrounded by natural inspiration.
No, this is the most basic of cities, as my dad would say in "Yiddish, "tuchus aven tish: ass on the table. It is here for all to see: the poverty, neglect, disappointments, contradictions. We can see the cracks in American Society and the broken promises of capitalism. We understand the degradation of industrialization and the disease of racism. This is not a city for those who want to hide from the truth and therein lies the gift.
Living in Detroit, running a business in Detroit, raising a family in Detroit forces me- to create a positive reality every day. I have few social structures to support my vision of a sustainable, healthy and happy life in Detroit; most of those have been stripped bare and have left with the resources of the middle class that have flowed out over the past 4 decades. But so too have much of the distractions that come with that life. My daughter does not grow up at Target; she doesn't walk down the street looking for things to buy; our conversations are about the people, the struggles and the questions that emerge from our environment. With so little to distract us, we notice each blossoming daffodil and delight in the erupting lilac bushes; they not only enhance the beauty; they give us beauty.
And so too, the people. There are many Detroiters who choose to stay despite the daily hardships of stripped-down urban living, crime, poverty, the comedy of grocery shopping of buying clothes for our kids; of going to a decent restaurant or finding a vibrant park for our children to play. There are many who stay because every day they are able to find the beauty and strength that inspire them to live a good life
They find it from looking into the soul of their neighbor and their children's teacher at every possible interaction; they find it at the corner store and the bakery, where the smallest positive connection can fuel the day; they find it at the Rievera Court in the DIA- where,we can be reminded of the transformation of art; they find it the Riverfront; They find it creating visionary futures together out of seemingly impossible todays: Mosaic Youth Theater, Greening of Detroit, Alternatives for Girls. Recently, I found it watching young children-black and white-chase eachother, giggling with abandon, between the raised beds of a community garden that they had just helped to plant in the Cass Corridor. Mostly, we find it in each other.
Because one thing that Detroiters share is our intimacy with the truth. This can cause great despair, but also some comfort. We know what the bottom looks like and we know that we can bring ourselves out of it every day; on a great day, we can even lift someone else's spirit and bring them out as well.
As a business owner, having co-founded Avalon International Breads, known in the city simply as "the bakery", I have experienced the power of this intimacy first-hand. No customers in the world could have supported a dream the way our customers have supported ours for the past 10 years. In fact, they taught us most of what we know. When, in our early days, we would open at 6 a.m. and the prized baguettes weren't baked yet, a loyal customer patiently reminded me, "When you open at 6 a.m, you really should have all your products ready then" and continued to support us when they finally were ready at sunrise.. When our oven broke down on our busiest day of our first year, the night before Christmas Eve- our customers gave us money for raw dough that they baked off at home, so that we would have the finances to stay open; When my partner and I, both women, had a child together, even the most sceptical and conservative customer, celebrated with us and welcomed our beautiful daughter into our city. And on and onů.
Detroiters can see beneath the surface. They can see beneath the illusions of wealth, physical beauty and consumerism. They can see truth, inner beauty and do whatever they can to cultivate it. Detroiters live on a diet of love: homegrown in the barest of soil. But therein lies the preciousness. And therein lies G-d.
By: Jackie Victor